A number of readers have asked about the different designs of the U.S. Coast Guard ensign and methods to date them, so I thought that I would spend a little time here discussing the subject.
The Coast Guard is the nation’s oldest continuous maritime service and is rich in traditions, many of which may be traced back before 1790. The Coast Guard web site notes, “The Coast Guard ensign serves as the seagoing equivalent of a policeman’s badge, the distinctive sign of a Coast Guard vessel’s law enforcement authority.... It was derived from the U. S. Revenue Cutter Service ensign adopted on August 1, 1799. The description of the final design, contained in a circular letter to the collectors of customs, was “sixteen perpendicular stripes, alternate red and white, the Union of the Ensign to be the Arms of the United States, in dark blue, on a white field....For many years, this flag was actually flown by vessels of the Revenue Marine (later called the Revenue Cutter Service) in lieu of the national ensign (the Stars and Stripes).”
The current Coast Guard version of the ensign is the product of a number of minor alterations over the past century. The sixteen vertical red and white stripes on the Revenue Cutter Service ensign represent the number of states in the Union at the time the flag was adopted. By 1890, the upper quadrant or union contained an American style eagle with up-turned wings, with 13 stars in a semi-circle above. In 1910, the Revenue Cutter Service added their emblem or shield in the field, in line with the lower edge of the union and over the center of the seventh vertical red strips. The emblem covered the horizontal space of three stripes. So, in 1915 this ensign, with the substitution of the new Coast Guard shield, became the ensign for the Coast Guard.
The newly formed Coast Guard shield or emblem consisted of a U.S. shield on crossed anchors, surrounded by the words “United States Coast Guard 1790.” Above and below the shield was the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus.” In 1953, the ensign was changed by removing the arc of 13 stars and replacing them by a circle of bunched stars above the eagle. Later, in 1966, the ensign was changed further by removing the words “Semper Paratus” from the shield.
Thus, Coast Guard ensigns fall into three date ranges: 1915-1953, 1953-1966, and 1966 to present. Sizes may range from size #5 (16” x 25”), up to size #3 (60” x 90”) and on to the largest, size #1 (7’ x 9’ or larger).
Like our column? Have suggestions for future subjects? Please send in your suggestions and questions, or a photograph of an object that you need help dating or identifying. We will include the answer to a selected inquiry as a regular feature each month in our column.
Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this specialty since the early 1990’s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net
This story appeared in the
July 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
All contents copyright © 1995-2017 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.